Friday, February 26, 2010

Los Angeles in 1935

Click here to enjoy, in glorious Technicolor, 8 and 1/2 minute movie of Los Angeles in 1935--full of "architectural oddities" and "colorful oddities" and garden gnomes--garden gnomes in 1935!

The Hidden Los Angeles website has the complete MGM/YouTube video, titled "Wonder City of the West." According to their blurb, this was the 14th in a series of travelogues filmed for movie theaters by one James A. FitzPatrick, starting in 1930. He traveled the world making these short films, until 1954. FitzPatrick died in 1980.

The producer roams from Olvera Street to Wilshire Blvd., marvels at the Brown Derby and other pre-Googie whimsical buildings, then visits the Hollywood studies and backlots--including Disney Studios (where the girls in their summer dresses emerge after a day of work, followed by men in shirtsleeves and ties). He shakes hands with a young Walt Disney in front of his home. The travelogue winds up at the Hollywood Bowl, with half-naked dancers cavorting on a raised stage.

OK, here's the YouTube link. But if you like LA History, visit the Hidden Los Angeles website too--there's some amazing stuff there. Makes me wish I worked for them., or vice versa.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meeting of Minds Recreated

In 1960, Steve Allen had an idea for a talk show in which the guests would be the great figures of history. Like, well, William Shakespeare, pictured with Allen at left. The guests would be in costume, but they could be from any historical period. What would happen, Allen wondered, if you asked Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, Galileo, and Attila the Hun to exchange ideas and converse?

According to Cecil Smith in the Los Angelees Times (writing in 1977), Allen actually previewed an idea of this concept on his real talk show in 1963.  He worked and pushed for years, got a pilot filmed in 1971, but it was 1977 before his concept--Meeting of Minds, a talk show featuring the important men and women of history--become reality.

Meeting of Minds aired from 1977 to 1981 on PBS. You can read about it or get books of the scripts, videotapes, or audio recordings on this Steve Allen website.

And the shows are being redone, live on stage!

To clarify: although the series aired for four years, don't think of it as a regular TV series with 25-plus episodes per year. More like six or eight. The format was that an hour show would air, in which Steve Allen would introduce three or four famous historical characters. One character, always, would be played by Allen's wife, Janye Meadows. The following show would feature a continuation of the first: an hour of talk by these historical characters, only without the introductions. Two hours for each group; the next show would introduce a new cast. The episode list is available at imdb.

The shows were successful, but not commercial. You can buy them on DVD today, or buy collections of the scripts in book form. Meeting of Minds won an Emmy and a Peabody Award.

They were originally shot at the KCET Studios in Hollywood--and that's a subject for a long blog entry in itself. The studios on Sunset, just east of Hillhurst, have been the site of moviemaking since 1912. Monogram Pictures occupied the address in the 1930s and 1940s, turning out the Bowery Boys movies, along with films like The Hurricane (1937, directed by John Ford). Read a blurb about Monogram Studios/Allied Artists/KCET here are But, I digress.

Meeting of Minds is being redone at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. On the third Sunday of the month, a one-hour episode is acted out by Gary Cole and friends, using pretty much the same scripts from the original series. Tickets are only $15 if you reserve in advance.

And next month--March 21--Ed Asner returns as Karl Marx!  (the original episode aired January 31, 1977, and Leon Askin played Marx.) Other characters--not cast yet--include Marie Antoinette, Sir Thomas More, and General/President Ulysses S. Grant.

The Theater is part of the Center for Inquiry, so there's another website to check out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Jesus Gets a Little Help Calming the Seas

Catholic or not, everyone's probably heard the Biblical tale of how Jesus walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee during a storm one evening, and calmed the choppy seas.  He also calmed his diciples, who thought they were going to be shipwrecked. This mosaic shows that scene, but apparently a little adjustment was in order after our recent storms. And the technicians who knew how to make that adjustment were ready, willing and able to make a house call, or church call....I don't get that kind of response from tech support or anyone else. Of course, being 50 feet tall and divine helps.

To be strictly accurate, the men aloft are working on the part of the mosaic showing the frightened disciples in a boat. At least, I think they're frightened. Doesn't the Bible say they were "sore afraid" ? But if you check out a closeup of this part of the mosaic on the church website, the fellows are pretty darn expressionless.

This is the other mosaic of St. Lawrence Martyr in Redondo Beach. I blogged on the first mosaic--showing St. Lawrence himself--a couple of months ago.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parrots in the South Bay

Can U C M? Squawking away at friends hidden in the fronds? One of the fearsome wild parrots of the South Bay, caught by my intrepid clicking fingers near the church-with-the-bell-tower, a landmark on Torrance Blvd. just before it slopes to the Redondo Pier.

The Parrot Project website says that free-flying parrots have been spotted around the area since the 1960s, and that the current population descends from escaped pets (or almost-pets)--a scenario repeated dozens of times.

According to local lore, the parrots all come from a few contraband birdies once confiscated by customs officials at LAX.

Not exactly true, according to parrot-tracking website Amazornia. Here's what they say:

"The wild parrots flying free in Southern California today are descendants of wild-caught parrots who were imported into the United States before importation was banned and somehow either escaped or were released intentionally. These birds were already well versed in their survival skills and able to establish themselves in areas where exotic plant life is plentiful."

Like Redondo Beach, where Majestic Magnolias line some of the streets. When their avocado-sized seed pods are ripe with big red berries, the parrots will hit tree after tree in the evenings, kind of like feathered barhoppers. The parrots scream loudly and obnoxiously, they pitch the used seed pods at cars. . . yeah, a lot like feathered barhoppers, getting good & soused.

Amazornia claims that pet parrots usually can't survive in the wild--the flocks in the area do not take new escapees in. What we see (and hear--oh, lordy, can you hear them!) are birds bred and raised wild.

Occasionally you can look up and see parrots sitting on a phone line. Watch for a minute--chances are one of them will start to fall backward and hang by his feet. Endlessly amusing.
According to Amazornia, these wild parrots are thriving, but in their native land the story is more dire. They are endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. So if they pitch a seed pod at you, be patient. Remember that these are the survivors of an endangered species, fighting to turn things around. We might have something to learn from them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mosaic in Lomita

Another community mosaic project!

This one is in Lomita--2161 Lomita Blvd to be exact, at the northeast corner of Lomita & Narbonne. That's the address of the Summer Studio Arts Academy, and the mosaic is mounted outside, near the main entrance. Completion date for the art was early summer 2009, after about three and a half months of work with over 50 people contributing their time and skills. The mosaic is titled "South Bay Shines a Light."

David Parsons of the Academy says the Chambers of Commerce of both Lomita and Palos Verdes participated. The point was to involve people--artists or not--in a project that reflected their community. So right in the center of the mosaic, shining its light, is a locomotive--because Lomita is home to the Lomita Railroad Museum.

The Summer Studio Arts Academy hosts "Art Jams" on the 4th Friday of the month. Poetry and live music, with refreshments! The next one is coming up soon, February 26, from 7-9:30 pm. Free parking lot in back, but be sure to walk around and enter from Lomita Blvd. so you can see the mosaic.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lynching of Lashenais

Sounds so poetic, doesn't it? Like a Victorian melodrama. Here's the picture of the event, taken in 1870.

That is Temple Street at the corner of New High (Justica) Street, Los Angeles. Clicking on it should bring up a much larger image. According to USC's caption:

A crowd of people gathers around the gate to the lumber yard. Lashenais, who was lynched for killing Jacob Bell, hangs from the archway. Many people towards the outside of the crowd simply sit, inactive. Tents and other spectators can be seen on the hill in the background. The image also shows Pound Cake Hill, which would later become the site of the Court House and then the Criminal Courts Building.

Just for comparison's sake, I found this pictures of Temple Street in 1876--just a few years later. The Los Angeles Library's caption says that Court Circle is laid out on the left.

Of course, that doesn't answer the tantalizing questions of who Lashenais was, why he killed Jacob Bell, and why the manly men of Olde Californy named a feature of their rugged land Pound Cake Hill.

This was the last lynching in Los Angeles, so it does get mentioned by the history books on occasion. According to page 191 of James Miller Guinn's A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and  Environs, Also Including Biographies of Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present, Volume 1. (Is that a long enough title?) (Volume 1 contained 935 pages. Was there ever a Volume 2?) 
(I know I didn't finish the sentence but I think we all need to pause for air here.)

Anyway, according to Guinn, Michael Lachenais was a French hot head who owned property south of the city, next to a farm owned by poor, inoffensive Jacob Bell. Lachenais rode up and shot Bell with a revolver one day. Why? A minor disagreement over the use of water in a zanja. Lachenais was arrested when he bragged about the killing later. Guinn says he'd already killed four or five men before, which--even in those days--was not a method often employed to endear oneself to one's neighbors. So on December 17, 1870, anywhere from fifty (per the LA Times) to three hundred (per Guinn) armed men from the Vigilance Committee took matters into their own hands.

In 1927, an aged J. J. Mellus--one of the vigilantes--recalled the day for an LA Times reporter. "We didn't waste much time in arguing the case...we were a body of men enrolled and sworn by oath to obey our captain's orders. Our leader was Bill Harper. We decided that Lachenais had committed murder too often in Los Angeles, and that we would take the law into our own hands.

"We marched to the city jail, broke in the doors, went to the cell where Lachenais was held, smashed in the door with a 6 x 8 timber, put a rope over his head and marched him down to Tomlinson's corral at the corner of Temple and New High streets. There was a wide gate leading into this corral, which had a heavy cross beam, upon which many a desperate character had been swung into eternity.

"Lachenais made no resistance; he knew it was useless. Some time previously he had shot and killed a man named Delaval, while the two men, with others, were holding a French 'wake' over the body of a recently deceased countryman. Lachenais was acquitted at the trial.

"Arriving at Tonlinson's corral, Frank Howard mounted a box and tried to dissuade the Vigilantes from haning Lachenais, pleading for the law to take its course. But the Vigilantes were obdurate. The murderer was hoisted on to a dry goods box and his arms and legs quickly pinioned. WHen asked if he had anything to say, he remarked that he would like to see a priest. His request was granted. He then said, "Well, it's all through, and I'm going into the spirit land to fight the Germans." (The Franco Prussian war was then at its height.)

"After these statements the rope was drawn taut and the box pulled out from under the victim. It took a long time to strangle him, the drop not being sufficient to break his neck. In fact, when the body was cut down an hour or so later, word was passed around that Lachenais was yet alive, and the Vigilantes were again ordered to assemble and make a better job of it. However, the report proved false."

Mellus remembered that a photographer showed up and took pictures, but "hanging a man in those days was not accounted very much of a sensation. There was no attempt on the part of the authorities to stop the lynching."

Monday, February 1, 2010

New Mosaics in Redondo Beach

Something new! These steps leading up from the International Boardwalk in Redondo Beach (sorta) to the Village Condos were just installed late last year, when 50 volunteers worked with designers Patti Linnett and Debbie Collette finished up the work of attaching ceramic pieces to mesh that was then mortared to the steps. They started in July, so the project took four months all told.

Read about it here in the Daily Breeze. Looks like they're calling it "Ocean Steps."

Here are closer views. No one got paid for this, though funding was kicked in by the King Harbor Association--their press release has the details. All the articles point out that it is the FIRST community art project overseen by the new Redondo Beach Public Arts Commission, and I hope that means that other such installations--be they mosaics, murals, sculptures, whatever--are in progress.